Listen, Look, And Trust

Dear Saints,

In the quiet of the snowstorm’s aftermath and it’s ‘mounds of extra insulation’, (yes I missed our Feb 1 deadline) I heard the most surprising thing. It was just at dawn, a sound I felt like I had not heard in years (read months) an early morning bird call. It was so surprising and unexpected as I lay in bed awaking rom deep sleep, I had not the chronic feeling of dread but a feeling of hope. That simple, short, sweet bird chirp reminded me that Spring is on its way, even though Punxsutawney Phil, tells ‘we’re not out of the woods yet’.

We’re all in utter amazement and bewilderment that we’re quickly approaching a year from when our lives and the world changed beyond our wildest imaginations or emotional resources. While I pray that we will look back on this time in the future with some hidden blessings and gifts, I’m not sure we’re there yet. But even though we’re not, God is.

We’re approaching the season of Lent; a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal. The worship committee and our tech pals (Kim and Dan) are feverishly working on how we can make yet another historically intimate service meaningful while apart and not yet fully A/V equipped. We will do our best to help you launch into Lent meaningfully. We’re also finishing up our 5th annual Lenten devotional which can be accessed daily via Facebook and our website and can be emailed in a PDF or snail-mailed for those who like to have the booklet.

As hard as the last year has been on all of us, Lent can be a helpful and hopeful harbinger of good things to come. For some, it may be an invitation to a deepening of our faith journey after a rough year of ‘just getting by’. For some, it may be an invitation to return to more regular faith practices after a hiatus from worship and prayer. For some, it may be a gentle awakening to more positive things to focus on as we gain more daylight, increasingly warmer temperatures, and using the mental and spiritual muscles we didn’t have a year ago.

For sure, God is about to bring us to light out of the darkness, hope out of despair, peace out of chaos, and surprises that are still unearthed, literally and figuratively. As a reminder, the word Lent in Latin Quadragesima, means 40 days. The old English shortened the word Lencten which means “Spring Season”.

I know of a woman in our faith community, who last fall, decided instead of being fully dragged down by the weight of Covid times, decided to plant hope for the spring. She literally planted tulip bulbs in their garden to spell out her husband’s name! (Thankfully, it’s not Rumpelstiltskin) She has no idea how it will all go, or how they will bloom or spell. But she’s delightfully and patiently waiting just to see a new sign of hope and joy.

God too has planted bulbs for us. We don’t know what they will spell out, only that they come with a message of hope and redemption.

I hope you will listen and look and trust that God has a better future for us than in our past.
We just have to trust and watch and wait for 40 days.

With you in the waiting,

Weekly Words of Wisdom 2-10-21

Sermon 2-7-21           The Rev. Jen Van Zandt   

Matthew 15:10-20  

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”  Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”  He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.  Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”  But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”  Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.  For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Intent and Action of the Heart

I apologize that the bulletin that you received this week actually had the first part of Matthew 15, but as I started working on the sermon, I realized that the heart of the matter really is in this second section.  And so we have jumped into the middle of Matthew’s depiction of Jesus having a healthy debate with scribes and Pharisees—a debate about purity.  And they are trying to trip up Jesus and the disciples; trying to call them out because of not being “faithful Jews” by not washing their hands before they eat.  But… since we are all washing our hands about twenty times a day, I’m not really sure that reviewing that part of the text is helpful.  But looking at what comes out of our mouths in both words and actions isworth looking at.  

In this past year we have seen deplorable, unconscionable words and actions all over the place, including regular accounts of nasty confrontations and behaviors in supermarkets of all places.  Shouting matches.  People spitting and coughing on other patrons, security officers and even fist fights, especially when tensions were running high earlier in the year and supplies were at an all-time low.  Something has gotten buried, lost; certainly, a sense of civility over basic courtesy and even societal kindness.  

I went to the supermarket twice this week.  And actually, two separate supermarkets. One was to pick up prescriptions for my parents.  And yesterday I had to get some items for my Super Bowl party… of one. So when I went to the first store, as I was nearing the entrance, this tall man kept turning around and looking at me. I thought he was looking at the person behind me.  He said to me, “Didn’t I just see you in West Orange?”  And I said, “No.” And he said, “I could have sworn I saw you in West Orange!”  I said, “No, but everybody has a twin.  Maybe you saw my twin. My evil twin.”  We chuckled and went on separate ways.   

Then on the way out, a man in front of me was going down the same aisle in the parking lot that I was and I couldn’t stop looking at his shoes.  They were most unique, crazy-colored sneakers I had ever seen.  And then he caught me looking at his shoes and he had a strange look on his face and so I said, “Hey, I love those shoes!”  He said, “Oh, thanks.”  And then he got in his car.  (I was parked right next to him).  He rolled down the window and he said, “You know, I like your shoes, too.” He hadn’t seen them, he was just being nice.  I cracked up and said, “Yeh, they’re about twenty-five years old, but thanks.”  That’s the civility that I’m looking for and hoping, someday that we get back to.

But then yesterday, actually last night, I had to go to another supermarket close to me to get, again, to get some items.  And, because it was late, there were very few cashiers.    I had more than 20 items so I had to go to a cashier. The lines for the few cashiers open were all backing up into the aisles. But just then, another cashier showed up and opened up another lane. So the person in front of me, instead of going straight to the cashier that we were lined up for, went into newly opened line.  I waited.  I stretched my back. I said some prayers over the weather.  And then this well-heeled, young couple came and jumped into the newly opened lane.  There were already two people behind me in the aisle and I just said, “Excuse me.”  I said, “The line actually is behind me.”  He said, “Well, aren’t you special.  Who decided to make you the director of traffic at the supermarket?”  And I said nothing. I was so gob smacked I didn’t know what to say.  And then he got in line two behind me.  And now I’m waiting to give the lady who is cashing out some space to gather herself so that I’m not on top of her.  And he’s still barking at me—“Come on.  You’re still holding up the line.  You’re still standing there?  You still haven’t moved up!!”  And he kept at it, and at it, and at it.  

I moved to an open lane and unloaded my groceries.  I had an pleasant greeting with the cashier.  We never discussed it.  But driving home, I thought of all the things I wanted to say to him.  And not only was it him, it was his wife.  His wife was giggling at the way he was taunting me.  Maybe it was my old shoes or my old hat or my weight or my blue glasses or just because I wasn’t moving fast enough.  But, good Lord!  I thought of all the things I wanted to say and I actually said them out loud in the car, one by one.  You know how you do that?  When someone says something nasty to you and it’s not until you get into your car and drive away that you think of the right response?  I said all of the responses I could think of, out loud until I realized that somewhere deep inside this guy’s heart, he’s hurting–because hurt people hurt.  Wounded people wound.  Abused people abuse.  It took me awhile to shake it off when I got home.  But when I got back to the text, I realized that we all have to cleanse our hearts so that even the responses in our brains are not trading evil for evil, nastiness for nastiness, but to actually have compassion and mercy.

So, on a happier note, I don’t know whether or not you caught this.  On Friday when I was going through my news feed, I found that there was an article about one of our own restaurants here in Boonton, right on Main Street.  It’s called i2i.  It used to be the space of Vinnie’s Pizzeria, but now they have combined the space.  As it turns out, Mickey Chopra, who is the owner of i2i, was discovered by Dr. Oz.  Dr. Oz did a segment on his show, which aired on Friday about Mickey Chopra.  The name of the segment is called “Rescue Restaurants” or something like that.  And so Dr. Oz shows up at i2i and Mickey, the owner of the restaurant, was so surprised he got goose bumps!  The segment shows a dialogue between Mickey and Dr Oz and Mickey was making about $100 a day or less in restaurant purchases, but Mickey still kept at it.  He started sending meals to local hospital emergency workers.  He sent pizza pies to the Mountain Lakes Police Department.  And this caught on.  So then he got a call one day from a man who said, “Here’s $500 on my credit card.  Go buy meals for whoever needs them.”  Mickey too, has already been making donations to Loaves & Fishes! And so… if you haven’t seen this segment, go on Dr. Oz and look at it, because even our very own Marilyn Ward was on national television, for about 10 seconds.  But she was included in that segment because Loaves & Fishes was one of the many recipient of Mickey’s kindness and his actions.  Dr. Oz asked him, “So what got you through this, Mickey?”  And he immediately said, “My faith.”  The segment contuse with more surprises. He received a proclamation from Boonton’s Mayor and a warm congratulations from Anthony Bucco, our senator. DoorDash  is giving him a $10,000 grant.  He was bowled over with surprise after surprise. But the most important thing is that he kept saying, “God heard my prayers. God heard my prayers”.

Now not every restaurant owner is having that same experience or even that same experience of faith.  It’s not what we take in that defiles.  It’s what we speak, what we say, and what we do that defiles.  

So today, my friends, we have the opportunity to start over again and to cleanse our hearts of all those things; the hostilities we have for people who are not like us, the hostilities for all the things and all the disappointments that have gone awry this year.  But we have an opportunity to come to this table, because this table is not just bread and juice.  It’s not just a ritual.  It’s an active witness that we believe that God’s heart is at the table waiting to meet us and cleanse us.  It’s a place where we can confess our faith, repent our shortcomings and renew our vows to be faithful Christians. This table is a testament to God’s redemptive work in us, and all of creation, including the man and his wife at the supermarket.  The table is a gathering up of all God’s people: past and present and future; all who want to move towards a coming joy and a full reign of justice–a new heaven and a new earth. 

I learned recently that in Hong Kong even today when people meet each other, they don’t say, “How are you?”  What they say is, “Have you eaten?”  My friends, have you eaten?  Because if you haven’t, now is the time to start again and bring all those things into us that are love and patience and kindness, so we can bring those things to our neighbors and our foes.  May it be so. Amen.